Emmy Drama Lead Actor Showdown: Jon Hamm vs. Bob Odenkirk

There’s little doubt that Jon Hamm is the sentimental favorite in the race. That he has never won the trophy for his nuanced portrayal of Don Draper in “Mad Men” seems an embarrassing historical oversight — even in the year of the acclaimed “Suitcase” episode, when “Friday Night Lights’” Kyle Chandler played the role of spoiler. Ironic, then, that Chandler’s been nominated again this year, Hamm’s last chance to finally claim what’s long eluded him. But the real threat to his legacy may come from Bob Odenkirk, who proved his dramatic chops as the lawyer struggling with his conscience in “Better Call Saul.”

THE ODDS

Emmy voters love nothing more than making history, and Hamm may well ride the wave of nostalgia for “Mad Men” straight into the record books on the heels of his eighth nomination for the role. Witness last year’s coronation of “Breaking Bad,” which sailed into the TV sunset with five Emmys, including best drama. But that nostalgia serves two masters: The lingering love for “Breaking Bad” may just as well
benefit Odenkirk, too. His Saul Goodman may have been the comic relief in “Breaking Bad,” but his bravura performance in “Saul” is no laughing matter. Who knew the comedian could act, too?

THE CASE FOR JON HAMM

Don Draper may not have been a good man: He was a cheating husband, a neglectful father, an unapologetic alcoholic. And perhaps that’s why Hamm has long been denied the Emmy he deserves — it’s hard to root for someone seemingly so unredeeming. But after seven seasons of lying, womanizing and drinking, he found his bliss (and bought the world a Coke) in the finale’s final moments on a California hilltop. And thanks to Hamm’s fervor, it felt earned. Witness his breakdown over the phone with Peggy — “I’m in a crowd,” he said, though he was never more alone. But it was the wordless hug with Leonard in the group therapy session that truly saved his soul.

THE CASE FOR BOB ODENKIRK

Odenkirk has long been renowned for his comedy — his sketch series “Mr. Show” was a cult fave — so his ability to step into a leading role in a dramatic series is that much more impressive. Consider, too, that his Jimmy McGill is rather loquacious — delivering dialogue that stretches for scenes on end. It’s a far cry from Saul Goodman’s witty one-liners on “Breaking Bad.” More than just being chatty, Odenkirk finds the heartbreaking soul of the lawyer we thought soulless. In the episode “Pimento” he discovers his brother’s betrayal and his skillful cross-examination of Chuck proved that, despite Chuck’s accusations, Jimmy may well have legal talent after all.

THE COMPETITION

Kyle Chandler (“Bloodline,” Netflix)
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” … except to the front-runners. History is unlikely to repeat itself, as Chandler’s chances of another are slim for his role as the (im)moral center of a dysfunctional family.

Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom,” HBO)
A surprise winner in 2013, Daniels already has one Emmy on his shelf for his performance as the idealistic newsman Will McAvoy — and isn’t considered likely
to repeat.

Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan,” Showtime)
Schreiber quietly shines in the role of the taciturn Hollywood fixer in Showtime’s family drama, but will have to content himself with the nomination, given the competition.

Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards,” Netflix)
Just as his Frank Underwood continues to ruthlessly scheme his way through Washington, Spacey — nommed for the third time — could pull off an Emmy upset.

 

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